The Bad Rap of Project Planners

February 26, 2018

Hans du Toit

 In a Linkedin article on 25 January by David Nash of Execution & Commercially Focused Project Planning, he made interesting observations and comments that describes the situation we find ourselves in in our beloved country, South Africa. I’ll quote a couple of his statements however you can read the full article by following this link

 He says “Project Planners generally get a pretty bad rap. This is because a lot of them are just plain terrible….. “ He goes on to identify 3 types of planners:

 The Con Artist: “…Within a couple of update periods this person can destroy a quality schedule to the point of worthlessness. They get by using fabricated CVs, using industry jargon they googled…. no one is really paying attention to what they are doing.”.

 The Software Jockey: “They know the software and they will constantly remind you of this fact …., with enough hand holding they can at least pull together a schedule of reasonable quality”.

 The Baffler: “The baffler usually understands both the project and the software but not how to structure information or communicate clearly…. They will make a very convoluted and confusing schedule that no one really understands how to read and their reports will be chock full of data that has no actionable value.

 In the South African context I am sure many can relate to this, however, the question to be asked is how do we fix this?

 There are too many of these characters. I believe the problem stems from a lack of knowledge from the industry itself as to what is to be expected from a good planner. A lack of good skills has led to the really good individuals to be able to “name their price”. This has led to a situation where planners are considered one of the highest paid professions and that is an obvious draw card for many without satisfying themselves that they really have the aptitude for this environment. Sadly there aren’t any institutions here that really foster the planning fraternity. Link all this to the demand for good planning skills in a market that cannot supply and you have a recipe for disaster.

 Development of the planners is an absolute requirement, however in my experience we generally start at the wrong point, i.e. we may not identify the most critical shortcomings accurately. As much as an engineering background is a good starting point to train and develop planners I truly believe that any person can be taught to become a good planner provided he/she has the aptitude and willingness to put in the effort. Good planners are certainly not developed from sitting in the office all day long having been taught how to operate software.

 I have this analogy!

 Do we consider a person to be a design engineer if that person knows how to operate design software, such as PROKON, ETAP, etc. without having undergone studies to cement  the fundamentals and apply first principles to perform a design?…… Why then do we call a person that has been trained to use MsProject or Primavera a planner if they do not know the fundamentals and cannot apply first principles of planning and scheduling. My firm belief is that Planning and Scheduling must be taught from first principles before any software is engaged.

 Another dilemma is that many a project manager nowadays knows far too little about the proper concept of planning and scheduling and therefore they are not in a position to firmly guide the expected use and outcomes from the planning and scheduling effort. If the project manager had the proper background he/she could assist firstly in ensuring that the correct candidates are appointed and secondly to drive the expected outcomes. Due to this general lack of knowledge they are often led by the nose, so to speak.

 Developing people is not always an option as the time constraints on a project generally does not lean itself thereto. The development therefore must be performed on a much broader scale and for this organisations will have to put time and money aside as part of their normal business.

Having identified what we believe to be the root cause of the problem, Profactaplan has developed training programs to develop planning and scheduling skills from grass-roots levels, and we are seeing the fruits of this initiative. To snowball this initiative in a way that can see the market demand for properly skilled Planning and Scheduling Professionals satisfied in the shortest possible time will require buy-in from those organisations that generally have a need for these skills.

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